Why We Draw
For me drawing will always be part of my creative process and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw. Whether I’m painting, stitching a piece of textile art or even designing a birthday cake, drawing has always been essential to my process, but it’s far more than that. It’s an essential part of my life and I can’t imagine not doing it.
A drawing is a mark upon a surface so while we might automatically think of a pencil on paper it can be so much more. It can be charcoal or chalk on a cave wall or marks made with a stick in wet sand, it can be the accomplished draughtsmanship of a Michelangelo or a child’s crayon picture stuck on the fridge, it might be a detailed technical drawing to show the workings of an engine or a hastily done sketch en plein air. They are all different types of drawing but what they all have in common is the desire to covey information. They are a form of communication. The urge to represent and record our surroundings, to express what we see and feel, has been part of mankind’s history for as long as we could hold a stick. A drawing gives us a voice
In an age when we nearly all carry a camera around in our pockets it’s not unreasonable to ask why should we bother with drawing when we are able to capture an image at the press of a button? But a drawing gives us so much more information than a photograph. A photo is a static image that is literally a snapshot of a fraction of a second. It gives us a single view. But when we draw, we must stop and look and truly see, we note how we feel, what it is about the scene we are about to draw that engages our senses and the image becomes fixed in our mind. It becomes a memory and in doing so it gives us so much more information than a photo ever can.
Drawing helps us become more connected to the world because it makes us look and see more clearly. It is a way of finding out about the world we inhabit. To draw something is to gain a better understanding of something. We learn to look, see and appreciate our surroundings with greater depth. This has shown to foster and develop our creativity.
When we learn to look in this way we must slow down and concentrate and so drawing also acts like a type of meditation, quietening the other voices in our head. It’s great for stress relief.
And it has been shown that drawing makes new neural connections and pathways in our brain. It actually helps to create memories. This little self portrait dates back to 1978. I can tell you that because I remember sitting on the floor of my student flat in Birmingham during my final year of university. It was the Easter holidays, and I hadn’t gone home because the plan was to spend the holiday revising. But I was bored and a bit lonely because everyone else had gone home. I took the mirror off the wall and propped it up against my wardrobe door, positioned myself cross legged on the floor and drew. Back then I wouldn’t have taken a photo of myself in a mirror because it would have involved a proper camera and a roll of film… selfies and cell phones weren’t a thing. But if I had, I can’t imagine I would remember quite so much about taking the photo as I do about drawing the picture. It’s a small sketch on a scrap of paper, not a particularly good likeness but it gives me so much information. I’m no scientist but I’m pretty certain creating these types of memories must be good for us. I don’t know about you I’m all for keeping my brain active and growing as I get older!
I know from my experience teaching that many people will say that they can’t draw but anyone who is able to hold a drawing tool and make a mark is able to draw. And anyone who is able to draw can learn to make better drawings. So, when people say, ‘I can’t draw” what they are really saying is ‘I can’t draw as well as I like’ or ‘the picture on the page isn’t what I imagine it to be in my head”. But drawing is a skill like any other that can be learned. You wouldn’t expect to get into a car for the first time and be able to drive. Or to sit at a piano and be able to play a beautiful concerto. You need to learn the basics and then you need to practise. And that is the secret not only to playing the piano but to drawing too. Because you need to practise a lot until you become proficient.
It doesn’t matter what you get taught, or how many tips and tricks you might learn but unless you practise you won’t improve. If I’m teaching you to ride a bike, I can tell you to sit up on the saddle and use your feet to make the pedals go round, but unless you sit up there yourself and give it a try you will never learn how to do it… and you need to practise to get good at it.
However, getting good at drawing is not the same as making a good drawing. After all, who says it is a good drawing? Don’t make value judgements. A drawing isn’t good or bad it is just a drawing. It can be more accomplished (achieved through practise) but that is something different. If the purpose of a drawing is to communicate or convey information the level of accomplishment doesn’t necessarily matter.
A great example of this is the game of Pictionary, where teams must communicate a word or phrase to their team members with no words or symbols, only a drawing. It’s a game our family plays every Christmas, usually with lots of noise, gesticulation, and hilarity. But even though some might say that I am ‘good’ at drawing it’s two of my sons who always make up the winning team with their sometimes crude, usually whacky cartoon sketches. They are able to communicate their thoughts far more efficiently than anyone else, so when playing Pictionary their drawings are definitely the best ones! We need to still that inner critic that tells us our drawings are bad by telling it to shut up and go away.
So yes, you can draw, and you can learn to love what you draw with the same joy and enthusiasm as that small child who picks up a crayon and makes stick figures and lollipop trees. And while you are doing it your understanding of the world will grow, you will learn to communicate and express your thoughts and emotions more effectively, you will reduce stress whilst creating memories and enhance your creativity. But most of all you will have fun.
If you want to have fun with your drawing, then grab yourself a pen and a piece of paper and download my free gift “Twenty Tips to Get You Drawing”. What are you waiting for!
And if you enjoy this free gift be sure to sign up for my newsletter by clicking the button below because the plan is to turn this into a brand new course in the new year, full of tips and tricks and exercises to get you drawing!